What are you Arguing?By Nathan Mates
"What are you arguing with them about?" he [Jesus] asked. [Mark 9:16]
Jesus's disciples were, to put it mildly, a coarse lot. Not just by their backgrounds-- they were mainly fishermen by trade-- but they'd probably missed out on most of the etiquette, theological, and social upbringings for the refined. Matthew, as an [ex]tax collector, had probably had the most background experience in dealing with the higher parts of society. In spite of this, Jesus picked his disciples more for what they would become than what they were to begin with.
From their initial beginnings, eventually some of the disciples got it through their heads that Jesus was more than just a very gifted rabbi-- Peter was the first to realize this, calling Jesus the Christ (Anointed One). [Mark 8:29] This was a breakthrough for them, and seems to have been one of the triggering aspects for Jesus to show some of his disciples hints of God's power working through and around him. Jesus took Peter, James & John to a mountain, where they witnessed the 'transfiguration' -- where Jesus was changed in appearance and talked with Elijah and Moses.
The other nine disciples were not so fortunate to witness such an event, having been left behind. Jesus had already drawn antagonism from the local religious authorities [Mark 2:6, 2:18, 2:24, 3:6, 3:22, 7:5, among many other places], so when the teachers of the law saw another opportunity to question the disciples, they made full use of it. The disciples had previously been sent on missionary journeys-- see Mark 6:7-13. The disciples had seen Jesus handle the questioning previously, and had probably experienced it on their journeys, so they were used to it happening without Jesus around. So, they took the bait.
When Jesus returned, he asked the fairly pointed question, "What are you arguing with them about?" [Mark 9:16] Nothing is recorded at all of that debate, only Jesus's sharp comments on it. Why? Because there was a much bigger problem right at hand-- a boy possessed with an evil spirit. [Mark 9:17] While the disciples were arguing with the teachers of the law, who was truly winning the debate? Satan. The boy was in bondage, and every second the disciples spent on arguing, the less they could work on the truly serious issue at hand. The boy's father had commented that the disciples had tried, but failed [9:18]. Instead of trying again, the disciples concentrated on the pointless diversion nearby.
Jesus did take care of the problem with the evil spirit, and teach an object lesson in the process. But, I think his words are something that ought to echo in our thoughts more often: "what are you arguing about?" To be sure, there is a time and place for arguing. The gospels record plenty of cases where Jesus took time to address the questions and criticisms of the Pharisees-- Mark 11:27-12:40-- but Jesus tended to make sure that those needing attention were addressed before or during the arguing, e.g. Mark 3:1-6. For us, we need to make sure that our fleshly impulses towards arguing are kept in check when there is a greater need for healing or the like in our midst. We must not allow the good to be the enemy of the best.